The power of video blogs to reinforce learning

Lilian AustinLilian Austin is a member of the professional team of accredited consultants at eWorks. An e-learning consultant offering learning design advice and services to educational organisations and companies, she is well suited to this role. During her extensive experience working in a faculty of education, Lilian has seen the power of video blogs to encourage reflection and reinforce learning. This is her story.

Practical placement, fieldwork or work…

… are all used widely in a range of programs, to give students the opportunity to experience the real world of work and to focus on authentic learning and assessment tasks. Typically students have been asked to complete some tasks whilst on their practical placement, often in the form of a reflective diary. In the past this was a written diary that was handed in to the teacher after the placement. A placement diary can be an excellent tool to both encourage reflection and reinforce that which is learned, but a post-placement submission is too late for any in situ intervention that might be needed. With the advent of new technologies, students have often been asked to complete written electronic blogs or participate in online forums in the LMS. Unfortunately, however, many students use these blogs to merely recount the daily activities without delving into deeper reflective practice.

Personal development through personal visual media 

I worked for years in a faculty of education where students went on practical placement in schools for up to four weeks at a time. For many of these students this is a confronting and highly charged emotional time as it came only seven weeks into their Graduate Diploma of Education. Many are shaking in their boots at the thought of teaching a class of pubescent year 9s. Their fear and anxiety is palpable. For one lecturer, the process of trying to adequately support them during this time was an ongoing challenge. Together we worked on ideas which would make the reporting and reflection on their practicum more real and focussed, and an opportunity for them to start to develop their professional, teacher persona. For years she had been asking students for a regular electronic blog, but we decided to try and combine video and written blogs.

Key to our thinking was the development and critique of the pre-service teachers’ professional identities which are being formed and moulded at this very challenging time. The lecturer wanted to see if we could gain insights into how they were travelling, and how the university staff could support them better. We wanted to see if video blogging could offer us a new way of assessing practicum experiences. Lastly we wanted to see if video blogs would allow students to better integrate their cognitive, motivational and emotional responses to their roles as emerging educators.

So what happened?

Students were asked to keep a regular written journal in their ePortfolio, but to also film themselves speaking to the camera at the end of each teaching week. These three-minute videos were also posted to their ePortfolio so that the lecturer could view them. The lecturer monitored both the written and video submissions throughout the student placements, rather than finding out what happened at the end. This meant that students who were struggling with their placement for whatever reason could be easily identified and assisted before it was too late to do anything about it and the placement effectively wasted. For some students the message and story they told in both mediums was consistent. For others, however, the video blog offered a window into their emotional and very personal experiences in the classroom which had never been seen before. The lecturer watched as pre-service teachers exhibited pride, affirmation, self-doubt, fatigue, adaptation, pessimism, optimism, idealism, achievement satisfaction, affection, hopelessness, disappointment and even anger. Just as students learn in different ways, it seems that they also have tendencies towards effectively communicating their experiences using different types of media.

The tough days

One student filmed himself at his desk in his bedroom. Over the weeks, as he became overwhelmed with the experiences of the practical placement, the bedroom behind him became more and more chaotic. There was no hiding his fatigued and somewhat fragile state after the first week. The lecturer contacted him with a chatty email and some strategies for dealing with the issues he was confronting in his classes. Gradually, over the weeks of the placement, the tone of his videos moved. There was less fatigue, shock and pessimism. There were moments of joy and recognition of himself as ‘a teacher’. His voice and demeanour were telling his story in a way that he didn’t communicate in his written blogs.

The breakthroughs

But it wasn’t all challenges and confrontations! When pre-service teachers had a good lesson for the first time, they were able to video themselves celebrating this intensely enjoyable moment. The lecturer commented that:

The complexity of emotional experiences were conveyed in a more meta-analytical way in the videos. Was this due to the greater sensory representation video provides, or did the action of talking to camera, without an immediate audience, act as a kind of confidential debrief? Did they imagine me listening? Did they remember me saying we would share them?

When the students returned to the relative safety of the university classroom, they shared and reviewed some of these videos with their peers. As a group they were able to grapple with the complexity of emotions in their first teaching experiences. Using the videos to guide them, they started to cast a professional gaze over the whole classroom landscape and their role within it. Video blogs were a powerful and insightful tool for these students and their lecturer. Students were able to view themselves from a distance, to intellectually explore what was happening, and to develop resilience strategies for future teaching experiences. In other words, they became better teachers!

Credits: Mirror, mirror on the…..floor by Andrew Fysh

Video blogging: the way forward?

Video blogging offers creative opportunities for many different types of educational programs and courses. Filming of student activities within placements, interviewing mentors and key personnel, showcasing actual work or work processes and – most importantly perhaps – reflecting on their learning. All of these approaches are real and authentic ways to assess students and guide their development. For those who worry about plagiarism in online learning video blogs are also a wonderful way to ensure that the students are learning and completing the assessment themselves.

Luckily the technicalities of actually taking videos have largely disappeared with the advent of smart phones. Most student have no difficulties in filming a three-minute sequence. Similarly, most LMS or ePortfolio systems allow students to upload short video sequences for their teachers/lecturers to access. The learning for both the student and teacher can be profound. At the conclusion of the course, looking back at their earlier, novice steps, students can clearly see just how far they’ve come. Powerful, real, authentic learning.

What do you think?

About video blogs and personal visual media in general? Lilian would love to know your thoughts. Thanks to Dr Julia Savage, Deakin University, for her assistance with this topic.

Will anyone look at my e-portfolio?

Lilian AustinLilian Austin‘s specialty is learning design – but does she follow her own advice when it comes to e-portfolios?

In this changing world of work and study…

…we need to constantly reinvent ourselves, continually presenting our skills and knowledge to new audiences such as clients, professional bodies, educational institutions and potential employers. Just recently I had to return to my own e-portfolio when I left the university for which I had worked for many years. It was a time to re-assess, re-collate and re-curate my own e-portfolio to align it with my new work priorities and opportunities. It was also a time to put my ‘money where my mouth is’ – after years of encouraging students to develop and maintain an e-portfolio, I could hardly shy away from the task myself. This process brought home to me, yet again, one of the real advantages of e-learning – the opportunities to represent our skills, knowledge, projects and learning with evidence from both formal and informal education. Theory meets learning meets real world experience.

Credits: Portfolio mosaic, by allispossible

Constructing our future with e-learning

As educators and trainers we have the opportunity to make e-learning and e-assessment become part of the way that our students construct their future and ongoing professional personas and therefore shape their lives. By carefully designing learning and assessment tasks we can assist students to gather evidence as authentic artefacts and place them within their e-portfolio space. This gives them the opportunity to revisit their learning, consider it afresh in the light of their new plans, and compile the evidence or products of their learning as rich narratives of their knowledge and skills.

But nobody will look at my e-portfolio

Yes they will! I have heard this from teaching staff and students too. Increasingly potential employers are looking at LinkedIn and other social media profiles – why not look at e-portfolios which have the potential to present a candidate in a very real and authentic way? Indeed during the process of writing this article I learned that eWorks recently assessed e-portfolios as part of their recruitment of an intern. I remember a pre-service teacher who was embarking on the task of getting teaching employment, putting together a rich and engaging e-portfolio. On her opening screen she featured a video of herself speaking to the camera about her passion for her new career and for working with teenagers in the science classroom. Her e-portfolio included an array of multimedia examples of her skills in teaching and was so much more illuminating than a mere CV.  She took her laptop into the job interview and opened the e-portfolio at appropriate times to demonstrate what she was asserting in the interview. It definitely had the wow factor. Needless to say she got the job and is now science co-ordinator at that high school.

The Challenge

The challenge is to construct assessment tasks which allow students to creatively evidence the assessment criteria. These can be collated in an integrated e-portfolio and used again and again in multiple iterations as students reconfigure their e-portfolios for different audiences over time. This is a wonderful win-win – teachers see evidence that their students have learned, and students can use this evidence to:

  • gain a qualification
  • learn 21st century skills by using and applying multimedia and ICT skills which are sought by employers
  • pursue employment and other interests in the ‘real’ world.

For a chat about the use of e-portfolios in education, or for general advice about good learning design, contact Lilian.

How to beat the e-learning resistance

Lilian Austin, eWorks Accredited Consultant

Lilian Austin is an e-learning consultant who offers learning design advice and services to educational organisations and companies. Having recently joined the team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks, she can now offer advice and solutions across the e-learning spectrum. Lilian has enjoyed huge successes with both designing and delivering online courses. Read on for some excellent advice about making online courses…wait for it…educational.

When it works, it really works

A few years ago, when I asked my students in a fully online master’s subject to provide feedback on their experience, many of them stated that they had felt more connected and engaged with me and their fellow students than they ever had in their face to face classes. The learning design had encouraged ongoing collaboration and support and this made the experience worthwhile for these students. For me this feedback was a dream come true. I knew that engaging and supportive online learning could be achieved and was thrilled to have the evidence. Allow me to convince that fully online is fully possible.


Credits: [22/365]: Lost in technology, by Devin Stein

The e-learning resistance

Online, ‘e’ or digital learning may be the jargon on the lips of most educational and training organisations these days, but many educators and students still resist it. The question is why? The reasons are many and varied but often people see it as lonely, unchallenging and poorly presented. And sometimes it is. Indeed some of those resisting may have been students of poorly designed and executed online subjects. Unfortunately online learning has been given a bad name.

As an educational designer who has viewed hundreds of LMS subjects dished up to students without any real thought or planning, I can see why there are doubters. The magic of good teaching and learning can so often be lost in a sea of PDF and PPT documents and unanswered discussion posts. So what’s missing? In my mind it is the presence of the teacher in the learning experience. This is both the actual presence online in discussions, forums and virtual classroom sessions but also the sense of the teacher’s voice structuring and guiding the online materials and activities. I’m not suggesting we don’t need teachers, simply that students don’t need to be in the same, physical location as them.

The face-to-face experience

Think about what happens in regular face-to-face sessions. Initially the teacher carefully plans and designs the learning experience. Then, in the classroom, the teacher sets the scene for the learning:

  • asking questions; eliciting and valuing previous knowledge
  • presenting new knowledge; helping students to make new connections
  • encouraging collaboration and problem solving; supporting risk taking, and
  • drawing together the new learning.

All of this can be achieved in online learning spaces but the design must go beyond long lists of PDF documents for students to read and try to make sense of.

Good learning design is key

Good learning design within the learning space is crucial to a student’s sense that the learning is purposeful, planned, cohesive, inclusive, collaborative, and challenging. Integrating the sense of the teacher’s voice in the learning space, making sure that students work together, and with the teacher, in both asynchronous and synchronous learning events, and ensuring that the assessment is real and beneficial, will make the online space a real choice for more students and teachers.

This type of learning design takes effort and the ability to integrate the many and varied e-learning options into the best experience and sequence for the student. It requires the teacher/designer/developer to be cognizant of the student at all times and to develop multiple opportunities for the students to engage with the materials, the assessment, the other students, and the teacher. Then the magic can happen. It really is possible – I’ve seen it happen again and again – but it takes effort.

How to make your e-learning work

Seven design tips to make the magic happen:

  1. Plan your online program using sticky notes. Use different colours for content chunks, activities, online discussions, and virtual classroom sessions. Think about the learner’s pathway through the program.
  2. Write or record your learning materials with the learner in mind. Create a sense of the teacher’s voice reaching out to the student. Avoid using the passive tense and overly informal language.
  3. Structure the learning in manageable chunks so that students can feel a sense of achievement and do not feel overwhelmed.
  4. Plan opportunities for meaningful collaboration in both synchronous and asynchronous environments at critical stages of the learning.
  5. Avoid long lists of PDF readings. Select readings carefully and give students a sense of why this document has been chosen, what they are looking for in the readings and how it relates to the learning activities or assessment. Make them want to read it.
  6. Avoid uploading PowerPoint slides unless you can get them narrated by the teacher. In face-to-face sessions PowerPoint presentations should only offer minimal information to support the lecture or teaching moment. It is the stories and narrative that can bring a PowerPoint presentation to life. Slides with a few dot points are not meant to be viewed in isolation from the teacher’s narrative.
  7. And lastly, if at all possible, plan for the teacher/tutor/trainer to be online and present throughout the course at significant stages.

Read to get started?

Contact Lilian if you have any questions.